May 21, 2012
If you have found the intermediate track races to be boring in 2012, I hope you’re prepared for this week’s event, as it may be the most difficult one to get through. Oh, and Danica is racing again, so be prepared to see a whole bunch of Go Daddy green on Sunday night. At 600 miles, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the longest race of the NASCAR season. This track is a 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” and no one is really dominant here on a consistent basis (as in an average finish in the single digits). I’m expecting big nights out of both Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing on Sunday night.
Fact of the Track: Qualifying well here can be very beneficial. Over the last three years (six points-paying races), 45% of the drivers that started in the top 10 also finished there. In that same time span, the pole winner has an average finish of 10.3.
During The Last Race At Charlotte: Matt Kenseth started on the outside pole here last fall and didn’t really look back from there. The #17 Ford lead for 46 of the 334 laps and had an average running position of 3rd en route to Kenseth’s second career points-paying victory at this track. Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 111 laps, finished 2nd, followed by Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, and Marcos Ambrose, who rounded out the top 5. Pole sitter Tony Stewart led 94 laps but ended up finishing 8th.
Practice Schedule: With this week’s racing being on Sunday night, the practice schedule is a bit different than normal. What’s good is that we get to see the cars on the track after qualifying, although it will be a lot earlier than the scheduled race time, and thus have different track conditions. On Thursday, there is one practice session (at 3:30 pm) before qualifying at 7:00 pm. The cars won’t see the track on Friday, but will have two sessions on Saturday–the first beginning at 10:00 am and Happy Hour starting at 1:00 pm. After that, this year’s Coca-Cola 600 should start around 6:30 pm on Sunday evening. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing: rosters are due at 5:00 am on Thursday morning.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Coca-Cola 600:
1. Jimmie Johnson – I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that Five Time will be on everyone’s radars this weekend, and for good reason. Keep this team on your roster until further notice; it’s crazy how red-hot Johnson and company are right now. Furthermore, the #48 team’s record on the intermediate tracks this season is by far the best. Johnson has finished in the top 3 in four of those five races and has an average driver rating of 124.4 (chart here). As you probably know, Jimmie won the All-Star race last Saturday, and he has six career points-paying victories here. Back when this track was named Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the #48 was dominant to say the least. Another interesting tidbit? The winner of the All Star race in the last two even years (2010 and 2008) has also gone on to win the Coca-Cola 600. I’m already considering him a lock for a top 5.
2. Kasey Kahne – I seriously think Johnson’s hot streak is overshadowing Kasey Kahne’s awesome run over the last two months: since Texas in April, the #5 Chevrolet hasn’t finished worse than 9th. Surprised? Now that Five Time has a victory under his belt, I think he can go on a streak of race wins, but the newest member of Hendrick Motorsports can do the same. Charlotte is Kasey’s best track on the circuit (statistically) and he has posted three victories in sixteen career starts at this track. As I said before, Kahne finished 4th here last fall while driving for Red Bull, and he led 28 laps in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 despite finishing 22nd. What’s most impressive to me is that Kahne has led 711 total laps here in his sixteen career starts. That’s more than Tony Stewart (695) and Jeff Gordon (672), who have twenty-six and thirty-eight career starts here, respectively. This team is firing on all cylinders and is on the verge of grabbing their first win. Will it be on Sunday night?
3. Matt Kenseth – What’s not to like about Kenseth this weekend? In the last two races at 1.5-mile racetracks, the #17 has ended up in 5th and 4th, and he almost won the joke format of the All-Star race last Saturday. Oh yeah, Matt is the most recent winner at this race track (points-paying events considered) and has been the fifth-best on the intermediate tracks this season in terms of average driver rating (click here for that chart). Kenseth finished 14th in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600, but led 103 laps that night and was a top 10 car for most of the race (Yahoo! chart here). Also, in the last six points-paying races at Charlotte, Matt has recorded five top 10s and his worst finish was that aforementioned 14th. Kenseth should be in contention to win his third career race at this track on Sunday night.
4. Kyle Busch – If I were to tell you that the driver that has led a combined 592 laps in five of the last six events at this track has never won here, would you believe me? Well, you’re looking at him. Kyle Busch has single-digit finishes down the board at Charlotte (see here) but hasn’t been able to close the deal in sixteen career starts at this track. It’s only a matter of time before that happens, and Sunday may be the night, as I also expect the #18 Toyota to be in contention at the end. Kyle has been less-than-stellar on the 1.5-mile racetracks this season (chart here), but I’m not too worried about it. He finished 4th in last weekend’s All-Star race after the team tweaked on the car to make it right. I expect this team to turn around their performance on the 1.5-mile racetracks this weekend, but if this Toyota looks a little off during practice, you may want to keep him on the bench in favor of Johnson or Kenseth. It’s hard to not like Busch’s average running position of 8.8 in the last four races at Charlotte, though.
5. Martin Truex, Jr. – His success during the 2012 season doesn’t warrant Truex, Jr. to be named a dark horse this week, but his record at Charlotte Motor Speedway does: in thirteen career starts here, Martin has finished inside the top 10 just twice and owns a 19.9 average finish. Ouch. I’m not too worried about that, though, and the #56 Toyota is my sleeper of the week. His average finish here is worrisome, no doubt, but let’s look into Truex’s history here a little further. He’s been good on the shorter races (Showdown/All-Star events) but then disappoints in the longer ones. Martin won the Showdown race in 2010 then went on to finish 2nd in the All-Star race later that night. In 2007, he also won the Showdown, and ended up 10th in the All-Star. I think part of the reason for Truex’s lack of success in the larger races–particularly the Coke 600–may be due to Michael Waltrip Racing‘s lack of solid equipment. In 2012, though, MWR has taken a huge step forward, and that can be seen on their intermediate track success. Specifically, Truex has the 4th-best average finish (7.6) on them this year with the 3rd-best average driver rating (111.9). I hope Chad Johnston can start making some better calls on the pit box soon, though. Truex should have visited victory lane already in 2012.
6. Greg Biffle – Try to put The Biff’s somewhat-lackluster performance in Darlington out of your mind, because the #16 team should be on top of their game again this weekend. Roush-Fenway Racing was testing engines during the All-Star Race and the one under Biffle’s hood blew after a little over 2/3rds of the race was complete. Not to worry, though, because they won’t be doing that this weekend. On the intermediate tracks this season, Greg has an average finish of 5.4 (chart here) and has yet to have a race with a driver rating under 100 (chart here). At Charlotte, Biffle hasn’t been great, but he’s led laps, which I like. He finished 13th and 15th here last season, leading 50 and 68 laps in those races, respectively. The Biff has just six top 10s in eighteen career starts at this track, but this team has been fast all year and that shouldn’t change this weekend. Statistically, this is his sixth-worst track on the circuit, but I’m looking past that for now. If this team looks a litle off in practice, though, Biffle will probably tumble in my final rankings, so be sure to check after Happy Hour over on ifantasyrace.com.
7. Denny Hamlin – Denny may finish outside the top 10 more often than he finishes inside it at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but I wouldn’t let that keep you from picking him this weekend. This team now has four top 6 finishes in the last six Sprint Cup series races and this is a track that Hamlin runs well at and, unless he has trouble, comes away with solid points for fantasy owners. He finished 10th in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 and followed that up with a solid 9th-place effort in the fall race. That makes three straight top 10s for him at Charlotte. I never found out what happened in the All-Star race to give Denny his 20th-place finish, but he did lead 16 laps that night, so that’s promising. This team also hasn’t finished worse than 12th in the last four intermediate track races (chart here). Hamlin has been in the top 15 for 77.1% of the last four points-paying events at this track, which is third-best in the series. Make sure the #11 looks great in practice before taking Denny over the other “big dogs” this weekend.
8. Carl Edwards – The #99 was also one of the Roush-Fenway Fords testing engines so don’t be alarmed about Edwards blowing up during the All-Star race. Statistically, Carl is the third-best driver in the series at this track, with an average finish of 12.6 and eight top 10 finishes in fourteen career starts. What’s even better about Edwards is that he has just two finishes outside of the top 20 in his career here. On the intermediate tracks in 2012, Carl Edwards hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 (chart here) despite having just the 11th-best average driver rating on them (chart here). As I’ve said for a few weeks now, I’m waiting for this team to really break out, but I don’t see this weekend being the time for them to do so. With his seventh top 10 of the season in Darlington, though, I have to ask the question: is Carl Edwards over his “hangover” from the 2011 season? Click here to vote.
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior was incredible during the All-Star weekend, and that is the main reason why he’s getting ranked in the 9th spot going into the Coca-Cola 600. He led every lap in the Showdown race and then came up through the field in the All-Star race, won a segment, and finished 5th. He said they learned a lot and I believe him. In this event last season, Junior and his crew were up and down all night (chart here) and gambled on fuel at the end but came up just a little short, finishing 7th. Before that, Earnhardt had an average finish of 33rd in the five points-paying events at Charlotte from 2008 through 2010. He got back to his abysmal ways in the 2011 fall race here, finishing 19th after starting 15th. This team has posted top 10 finishes in all of the 1.5-mile races this season, though, and I’m expecting another one on Sunday night.
10. Kevin Harvick – Over the last two seasons (four points-paying races), nobody in the series has an average finish better than Kevin Harvick. He also spend the second-most time in the top 15 over those four events. Happy won the 2011 Coke 600 after Dale Junior ran out of fuel and backed that up with a solid 6th-place finish in the fall. This team has also been solid on the intermediate tracks in 2012, posting the seventh-best average finish (chart here) and the eight-best average driver rating (chart here). Harvick was pretty solid in the All-Star race and finished 6th behind the #88. I’m expecting a top 10 finish at the least out of Harvick and the #29 crew on Sunday evening. Let’s just hope he doesn’t ram into his teammate again.
11. Tony Stewart – This team has been so hit or miss this season that it’s hard for me to rank Smoke very high going into the weekend, especially at a track that is his fourth-worst on the circuit (statistically). In twenty-six career starts here, Stewart has notched twelve top 10s and one victory (in 2003). His average finish here is 13.6 and in the All-Star Race, Tony hit the wall early and never really recovered, ending up 17th out of the twenty-three cars. In the last two events at 1.5-mile racetracks (Texas and Kansas), the #14 ended up 24th and 13th, and in the last four Coca-Cola 600s, Stewart hasn’t finished better than 15th. He surprised a bunch of people in Darlington a couple weeks ago, though, so I wouldn’t put it past this team to put up an unsuspecting good run in Charlotte this weekend.
12. Brad Keselowski – I think Brad Keselowski is poised to have a career night at Charlotte on Sunday. His best finish thus far in five career starts has been 12th, and that came while driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. The Blue Deuce has been either real good or real bad on the intermediate tracks in 2012, but the real bad finishes have came from faulty equipment. I personally think that Penske has that problem figured out, though, and I’m not worried about it. BK drove up from near the rear of the field in the All-Star race to win a segment and wound up finishing 2nd. Unlike the other Penske Dodge, Keselowski and crew generally make the right calls and can put the Blue Deuce in contention at the end. Brad sat on the pole for the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 and was a top 10 car all night before finishing a disappointing 19th. He has just one finish outside of the top 20 here in his career.
13. Joey Logano – As I said before, I’m expecting a big night out of Joe Gibbs Racing, and Logano is no exception. His record here at Charlotte is very good: in six career starts, Joey has never ended up worse than 13th and owns an average finish of 8.2. This team hasn’t ran particularly well on the intermediate tracks this season, but they’ve gotten into position to get the finishes. At Las Vegas and Kansas (both 1.5-mile tracks), the #20 finished 16th and 15th, respectively, and Sliced Bread got his third top 10 of the season in Darlington a couple of weeks ago. He has disappointed all season, but if there’s any track that I would trust Logano at, it’d be Charlotte. It’s by far his best track on the circuit.
14. Mark Martin – After this team’s let down in Darlington, many fantasy racers are probably going to be a little cautious with Martin and the #55 team this weekend (myself included). He’s led over 1,000 laps here at Charlotte Motor Speedway but hasn’t led more than nine in a single event here since 2006. Mark started 13th in both races here last season and finished 34th and 37th. I wasn’t too impressed with him in the All-Star race, either. This ranking is banking on this team getting back to their “normal 2012″ form this weekend. However, if he looks bad in practice once again, expect Martin to make his way onto my “Avoid” list.
15. Marcos Ambrose – There are a few things I like about Marcos Ambrose this weekend, and I consider him my number two sleeper right now. First, he’s been pretty consistent on the intermediate tracks this year–just check out this chart. Second, Richard Petty Motorsports has been good at Charlotte recently, including Marcos’ 6th and 5th-place finishes here in 2011. Finally, Ambrose looked pretty solid in the All-Star Race on Saturday night, ending up in 7th after starting 18th. With an average finish of 18.5, this is (statistically) Marcos’ eight-best track on the circuit. I’m expecting at least a teens finish out of the #9 team this Sunday.
Just Missed The Top Fifteen:
Aric Almirola – The Petty Fords were pretty good here last year (as in both Marcos Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger posted top 10s in each event) and I think we may see a decent run out of the #43 team this weekend (as long as Kurt Busch doesn’t get some kind of pay-back for Darlington). Aric’s best intermediate finish came two weeks ago in Darlington (19th) and he finished 7th in the Showdown race last Saturday. In Yahoo!, Almirola will probably be my backup if I don’t want to start Trevor Bayne.
Trevor Bayne – He’s going to be the most popular pick in the Yahoo! C Group this week with so many people saving starts on drivers that race every weekend. Trevor started 10th and finished 31st in his only Sprint Cup start at Charlotte last season and finished 15th in The Showdown last Saturday (I think I remember him hitting the wall). What’s somewhat re-assuring for those who pick Bayne this weekend is that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished 11th in this car in the 2011 Coke 600.
A.J. Allmendinger – If you’re looking for a long-shot dark horse pick with potential for qualifying bonus points, look no further than the Double Deuce. A.J. has been great at qualifying over the last month and has started in the top 4 in each of the last three points-paying races here at Charlotte. He also won the pole for the Showdown last weekend and finished 2nd after an early pit stop. It would take a lot for me to start Allmendinger this weekend, though (click here to see his average finish on the intermediate tracks in 2012).
Those To Avoid Entering The Coca-Cola 600:
Ryan Newman - There’s still a little animosity with me towards Newman from Darlington, but that’s only a fraction of the reason that I won’t be picking him this weekend. He may make my roster, but that’s only for the possibility of qualifying bonus points. Newman now has three straight finishes of 20th or worse on the intermediate tracks, and his driver ratings on them this season haven’t been too impressive, either (check out this chart here). At Charlotte, The Rocketman owns an average career finish of 20.4 and has recorded only eight top 10s in twenty-two career starts here. Ryan also hasn’t had a triple-digit driver rating in a points-paying race at this track since 2005.
Kurt Busch – We all knew it was only a matter of time before Kurt Busch went off. Yes, he’s had some good runs over the last few weeks, but I ask one simple question: why take the risk in picking him? Also, 600 miles means that there’s more opportunities for equipment to fail, the #51 crew to make a mistake, or even Kurt to go crazy. Landon Cassill finished 28th with this car in the 2011 Coke 600. I’d be surprised if Busch finished on the lead lap on Sunday night.
Jeff Gordon – Well, what’s going to happen to the #24 this weekend? As Gordon said a couple of weeks ago, it’s comical how much bad luck this team has encountered this season. Again, as with Kurt Busch, why take the risk? Gordon is going to turn his season around soon enough, but until then you won’t see him on my rosters. In the last three points-paying races at Charlotte, Jeff hasn’t finished better than 20th, despite starting 1st and 11th in two of them. Gordon finished 13th in the All-Star race last weekend.
May 8, 2012
I hope you’re ready for Danica-mania again, because it’s going to be in full effect this Saturday night at Darlington. The Sprint Cup drivers will run at least 367 laps in the race this weekend for the Bojangles Southern 500. There’s only one race here per season (as of 2005), so there’s not as much data available to us compared to other weeks. This is, personally, nowhere near my favorite track, so I’m kind of glad there’s only one visit per year.
Fact of the Track…In the last five races here, the pole sitter has finished in the top 10 four times. The occurrence that that didn’t happen was in 2008 when Greg Biffle led 95 laps but eventually had engine problems and finished 43rd. Also over that span, nearly half of the top 10 starters (22 out of 50) also finished there.
During The Last Race At Darlington…I’ve been talking about this particular race for the last couple of weeks. You may remember that it was Regan Smith who took the checkered flag and grabbed his first career Sprint Cup series victory over Carl Edwards. I said as soon as that race ended that Carl played the “points” card and let Smith win. Just think, if Edwards would have won, he also would have grabbed the 2011 championship. Anyway, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…It’s another night race so it makes sense to practice at close to the same race conditions, but I didn’t make this weekend’s schedule so that’s not happening. There’s a practice session set to start at 11:30 am on Friday followed by Happy Hour at 2:00 pm. Later that night (5:00 pm) the starting lineup will be set. The eleventh race of the season is set to start around 7:00 pm on Saturday evening. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing, the deadline to select your drivers is 5:00 on Friday morning. All times are in eastern.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Bojangles Southern 500:
1. Denny Hamlin – The most recent intermediate track race winner is coming in to his second-best track on the circuit (statistically). In six career starts here, Hamlin owns an average finish of 6.5 and he won here in 2010. Denny has never finished worse than 13th at Darlington and I wouldn’t expect that to change on Saturday. This team has been somewhat inconsistent this season, so make sure the #11 Toyota looks good in practice before going “all in” with Hamlin.
2. Kyle Busch – Rowdy Busch isn’t great here by any means, but with four finishes of 11th or better in a row now, it looks like this team is finally getting back into their “great” role. Oh, yeah, a win and a 2nd-place finish in the last two Sprint Cup races doesn’t hurt momentum, either. Busch has made seven career starts here and owns an average finish of 17.1. When you look at his driver rating for those races, though, you can tell the #18 was pretty good in all of them. Kyle won here in 2008 and has led a total of 278 laps in the last four races at this track. In 2010, Busch started 39th and drove through the field to finish 7th, and last year he finished 11th despite leading 78 laps.
3. Greg Biffle – The Biff hasn’t finished worse than 6th on this intermediate tracks this season, and I wouldn’t expect that to change this weekend. The #16 Ford is just so fast week in and week out that it’s almost impossible to go against it. In eleven career starts at Darlington, Biffle has recorded two victories and averages a finish of 14.2. In 2008, he started on the pole and led 95 laps but an engine problem relegated Biffle to a 43rd-place finish, as I said before. Greg has led 639 laps at the track, which is by far more than anyone with less than twenty starts. In comparison, Jimmie Johnson has led just 409 laps in two more starts than Biffle.
4. Kasey Kahne – Hopefully you’ve gotten over Kasey Kahne being so disappointing earlier this year, because this team is finally looking to fire on all cylinders and look like the pre-2012 expected team. This is Kahne’s second-best track on the circuit, but he’s never won here and has finished in the top 10 in just 33.3% of his starts. What’s good, though, is that Kasey hasn’t ran into major problems at Darlington in his six starts and has never finished worse than 23rd because of. As you read up above, Kahne finished a solid 4th here last season after leading 124 laps. Another good thing about Kasey this weekend? He has won the pole in four of his nine starts here.
5. Jimmie Johnson – Five Time is the one driver in my top 5 this week that I’m not 100% sure about. It’s hard to look past how great this team has been on the intermediate tracks in 2012, though (check out the chart here). In the last four Darlington races, Jimmie has recorded just one top 10 finish, but I’m not too worried about that. In the six races between 2003 and 2007, Johnson finished outside of the top 4 just once, and that was a 7th-place effort. His average finish of 9.7 at Darlngton is third-best among active drivers.
6. Brad Keselowski – You know I don’t like to go against the most recent winner. Even better is Keselowski’s quick ‘understanding’–so to say–of Darlington and how to run the track. He started 31st and finished 7th in his first career start here back in 2009 and hasn’t looked back since. In 2010, BK ended up in 12th, and last year, as I said before, he posted a solid 3rd-place effort (although he wasn’t that good all race–Yahoo! chart here). Still, there’s a lot to like with Keselowski this weekend. This team has been strong on the intermediates in 2012 but has run in to problems (mainly the fuel pump issues). The Blue Deuce has now finished 11th or better for three straight weeks. I like drivers with confidence at this track and Keselowski definitely has that.
7. Ryan Newman – “The Rocketman” has gotten us bonus points just once thus far in 2012, but that very well could change this weekend. In thirteen career starts at Darlington, Newman owns an average starting position of 8.2 and has qualified in the top 3 in more than half of them. He also races well here: there are some slip-ups on his record, but for the most part Newman’s finishes have been single-digits. In the last seven Darlington races, “The Rocketman” has finished 6th or better in five of them and the other two finishes have been 9th and 37th (not sure what happened that race). Hopefully this team can turn around their recent shortcomings on the intermediate tracks (chart here).
8. Carl Edwards – When you look at Cousin Carl’s record at Darlington, it’s pretty impressive but he does have a couple bad runs. In 2006, he finished 39th after starting 7th, but that was due to an engine issue. And then in 2009, Edwards hit the wall while inside the top 10 (Yahoo! race chart here) and ended up finishing 32nd. If you take away those two races from his record, though, Carl has an average finish of 6.7 in his other six starts at this track. As I said before, he let Regan Smith win this race last year finished 2nd in this race last season, but this team isn’t back to 2011 form just yet. They haven’t finished outside of the top 10 on the intermediate tracks in 2012, though (chart here).
9. Matt Kenseth – Kenseth isn’t stellar here by any means, but I like the way he is running right now and I think he should get at least a top 10 finish on Saturday night. In eighteen career starts here, Matt owns an average finish of 18.1 and has never finished better than 6th. He ended up in 25th in this race last season, but before that Kenseth had a streak of five straight Darlington races inside the top 13 at the end.
10. Martin Truex, Jr. - With two bad finishes in a row, I can hear the masses jumping off the Martin Truex, Jr. bandwagon at an alarming rate. I’m not so quick, though, and recommend that you give the #56 at least one more shot this weekend before writing him off as “the usual Martin”. Statistically, this is Truex’s second-best track on the circuit, behind Homestead. He has made six career starts at Darlington and owns an average finish of 12.3 and has completed all but one lap in those races. Truex finished 10th here last season, which was his second career top 10 at this track. When it comes to average finish, Martin Truex, Jr. has been the fourth-best Sprint Cup driver on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here).
11. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior hasn’t finished outside the top 10 at all in the intermediate races this season and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he continued the streak here on Saturday night. His recent history here is a bit concerning (average finish of 19.7 in the last three years) but he wasn’t running at the level he is running at in 2012 during those events. From 2004 to 2008, Earnhardt recorded six straight finishes of 11th or better. Another thing that I like about Junior this weekend is that he has just four finishes outside of the top 20 in seventeen career Darlington starts.
12. Jeff Gordon – Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Gordon hit the nail on the head when he said that this season has been comedic. His bad luck thus far is almost unbelievable. Jeff’s record at Darlington is great (thirty-one starts, twenty-one top 10s, and SEVEN victories), but how confident do you think he is right now? And how confident are you going to be if you pick him on Saturday? There’s no doubt in my mind that Gordon can run top 5 here this weekend–he does have seven in the last eight events–but why take the risk right now? I’m going to let him get a few good races going before I consider taking the #24. If this was my Predictions article, Gordon would be labeled “High Risk”.
13. Mark Martin – He’s got a week off and this car has been fast on the intermediate tracks all season, so what’s not to like about Mark Martin? His average finish on these tracks in 2012 would be much better (chart here) if he didn’t blow up in Kansas. He was running top 10 in that race. At Darlington, Mark owns an average finish of 12.2 in a whopping forty-five career starts. He has visited victory lane twice (most recently in 2009) and has recorded twenty-six top 10s here. A mid-teens finish is a little bit of a low estimate in my mind, but in four of the last five events here he has finished between 14th and 19th. That was when he was with Hendrick, though, who has just one top 10 as an organization here over the last two seasons.
14. Jeff Burton – In case you don’t read my articles often, let me make this clear: Jeff Burton is very rarely on my radar. I think he’s past his prime and will be done in a year or two. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve had him on my many rosters over the last three years or so a maximum of two times. That being said, I’m expecting a top 15 out of the #31 this weekend (although his performance on the intermediates this year has been sad). He just knows how to race at Darlington. In the last six events here, Jeff has posted finishes of 12th or better in all or one of them, with the lone exception being last season. However, he was running top 15 that race (Yahoo! chart here) before having engine problems. RCR doesn’t have problems like that too often so I’m not really worried.
15. Jamie McMurray – Here’s my sleeper of the week. Statistically, this is Jamie Mac’s second-best track on the circuit (behind Indianapolis) and he has just one finish worse than 22nd in eleven career starts here. His average finish of 14.5 is respectable and I like the fact that McMurray has led 84 laps combined in his last two starts at this place. Believe it or not, Jamie hasn’t finished worse than 14th in the last month of Sprint Cup Series racing.
Honorable Mentions: A.J. Allmendinger. This guy has been a qualifying machine as of late and could net you a few extra bonus points if you want to waste the roster spot. I wouldn’t recommend starting him, though (average finish of 27.4 here). Tony Stewart will probably move up in my rankings when I post my Predictions on Friday.
Those To Avoid Entering The Bojangles Southern 500:
Clint Bowyer – If any driver on this Avoid list is going to go against their past record at this track, it’s going to be Clint Bowyer. His history at Darlington should be simply called bad luck. He was running in the top 10 last year before getting caught up in the Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick wreck. In 2010, Bowyer drove up from his mid-twenties starting position to the mid-teens before having brake issues. And in 2009, Clint drove up to the top 5 before getting caught up in a wreck with A.J. Allmendinger. The #15 has the potential to run top 15 this week but you wouldn’t know it by looking at Bowyer’s average finish here (24.5).
Joey Logano -At most of the intermediate track events this year I have went into them with high hopes for Sliced Bread, but that’s not happening this weekend. He’s been disappointing at every intermediate track thus far in 2012 and that trend won’t stop in Darlington. In each of his three starts here, Logano has finished worse than he has started (sound familiar?) and his best finish in the last two years here has been 27th.
Paul Menard – He finished 15th here in 2009 but do you really think Paul Menard was that good all race? Check out his Yahoo! race chart (click here) and you tell me. As the saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut at one point or another. In Menard’s four other starts at Darlington, he owns an average finish of 29.8 and hasn’t finish on the lead lap once. Next!
Danica Patrick – Must I explain?
May 2, 2012
For the fans complaining about the lack of cautions and wrecks in recent races, this weekend’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway should satisfy their craving for the time being. If you follow my weekly Preview articles, you probably know that I switch them up a lot when the Sprint Cup Series stops at a restrictor plate track. These races are too unpredictable and I feel like it’s somewhat of a waste of time putting together a list of my full top 15 rankings. This week I’m going to focus on the Yahoo! Auto Racing game in particular, with who to pick and who not to pick in each group.
During The Last Race At Talladega…It was Clint Bowyer grabbing the win (his second at the track) and his third top 2 finish in as many races at Talladega. He passed his team mate, Jeff Burton, coming off of turn four and beat him to the line (video here–you should probably mute it). Dave Blaney, Brad Keselowski, and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…First off, practice and qualifying mean absolutely nothing at these tracks. For the drivers, it’s all about avoiding problems and, in the end, timing to determine whether or not you will be in position to win. There are two practice sessions on Friday (2:00 pm and 3:30 pm) followed by qualifying on Saturday, which is set to start around noon. The green flag on this year’s Aaron’s 499 is set to wave around noon on Sunday. All times are in EST.
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Yahoo! A Group:
Who To Consider Picking:
Brad Keselowski – The Blue Deuce is a near lock for my roster this weekend. He’s pretty much the only A-list driver that I know for a fact I won’t need to use 9 times this season, and to add to that he’s pretty good here. In six starts, BK has recorded four top 10 finishes and won this race in 2009 while driving for Phoenix Racing.
Kevin Harvick – There is one number that I love about Happy Harvick at Talladega: zero. That’s how many DNFs he has here in twenty-two career starts. I also like his three top 5s in the last four races here. I have the full nine starts left with Harvick so chances are he will make my roster this weekend.
Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards – We’re looking at qualifying bonus points with the Fords this week, as it was Edwards and The Biff who took the front row in this year’s Daytona 500. I wouldn’t suggest starting either of them, but as you probably remember Kenseth won in Daytona and Carl finished 8th.
Not Worth Wasting A Start:
Basically the normal guys that there is a possibly that you may start them the full nine times this season: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart. You could also throw in the two Roushkateers I mentioned above.
Yahoo! B Group:
Who To Consider Picking:
Kurt Busch – As I mentioned before, Brad Keselowski won with Phoenix Racing in 2009 and now that Kurt and his team have gelled a little bit this season, I think he could actually challenge for the win if he stays out of trouble. Whenever James Finch puts a car in a super speedway event, it’s going to be fast no matter who’s behind the wheel. With Busch–who is a very good plate track driver–it is just an added bonus. Landon Cassill finished 16th in this car last season at Talladega.
Jamie McMurray – As of now, the only shot Jamie Mac has at making my roster this season is at Talladega and Daytona. I thought we were going to see a bounce back out of this team in 2012, but it’s just not happening. The 2010 Daytona 500 winner has five top 5s to his name here at Talladega and won the fall event in 2009. He had a top 10-top 15 car for more than a third of this year’s Daytona 500.
Clint Bowyer – If you’re down to five or six starts with Bowyer, you may want to leave him off this weekend, but I’m sitting with eight more so I’m good to go. History means nothing at this track but you can’t look past a guy that has finished 1st or 2nd in each of the last three events here. Bowyer has finished worse than 12th just once in the past nine races here which tells me one thing: he knows how to avoid wrecks.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – This is one major dilemma that I will personally go through this weekend: should I put Junior on my roster? The guy is red hot and we all know what he can do on the plate tracks. I only have five starts left with him, though. If you have seven or more go ahead and put him on there.
Joey Logano – He’s disappointing pretty much everywhere else, but Logano could be a nice pick this weekend. He finished 9th at Daytona in February and finished in the top 10 at Talladega more often than not (four times in six races).
Not Worth Wasting A Start:
With Greg Biffle, I would like to hear any argument as to why you would have him on your roster this weekend except for possible qualifying points. If you start him, I’m sorry but that’s just not smart. I have eight starts left with Ryan Newman but I’m not using him simply because he hates this track and hasn’t finished better than 23rd in the last five events at Talladega. Kasey Kahne is starting to get things turned around so you will probably want to save the rest of his starts for sometime later in the year. I’m sitting at eight with him, though, so he might make my team.
Yahoo! C Group:
Note: I’m generally not real big on “start saving,” but I think in this year’s C group it is essential, and the people on the “avoid list” below really shouldn’t be on anyone’s rosters.
Who To Consider Picking:
Michael Waltrip – Heck, why not? He may have wrecked himself out of the Daytona 500, but Mikey’s taking over Mark Martin’s #55 Toyota this weekend. This car has been speedy all season and finished 10th in the season-opening race in Florida. Waltrip finished 9th in the fall race at Talladega last season and has finished in the top 20 in over half of his fifty-one career starts here.
Trevor Bayne - I can’t find a schedule for him that says exactly how many Sprint Cup races he’s running this season, so I’m going to use Trevor when I can. We all know that the #21 Ford has some power under the hood so you may be able to grab some qualifying bonus points out of him. He started 4th here last fall en route to a solid 15th-place finish.
Dave Blaney - If he can avoid trouble, Blaney could be a real good pick for Sunday. Not only did he finish 3rd here last fall, but he wound up 15th in this year’s season-opening Daytona 500.
Not Worth Wasting A Start:
The two obvious names here are Aric Almirola and Bobby Labonte. I’m sure everyone plans on using both of them the full 9 times this season, so there’s no point in wasting a start on a wildcard race like this. I’d also like to throw into the mix Casey Mears. We’re going to need another starter on intermediate tracks later in the season and that is where this #13 team has been at their best this year.